The Urgency of Now
The health care summit meeting on Feb. 25 ended not with a bang but with a grimace. With the Republican opposition determined to remain only that, Democrats are left scrambling to salvage health care reform before its momentum peters out completely. To start over, as Republicans disingenuously suggest—as though they were not present and had no responsibility to participate in the yearlong process—would be to postpone reform indefinitely.
But Congress cannot merely shrug off the vexing problem of health care in the United States or pretend to “fix” it through tepid efforts at cost control. It does not serve the common good to help 3 million additional families pay for health insurance when more than 10 times that number have none. And it is morally unacceptable for 45,000 people to die each year in one of the wealthiest nations on earth for lack of health care insurance.
As a player in the health care debate, the church may not achieve all its goals immediately, though it has already achieved a great deal in protecting the integrity of the Hyde Amendment. It can continue to fight for the protection of the unborn, conscience clauses for medical professionals and health care for immigrant communities through the reconciliation process and future legislative action.
Reform is imperative. The status quo already endangers the nation’s economic vibrancy as it diminishes human dignity. Postponing a comprehensive solution means costs will climb and fewer employers will offer insurance benefits. It took courage for previous Congresses to pass Social Security and Medicare against powerful opposition and public uncertainty. That same courage is required today. As Carol Keehan, D.C., president of the Catholic Health Association, insists, the time for reform is now.
The Cost of Uranium
President Obama has stated his support for the construction of safe, clean nuclear power plants in the United States but has said little about the methods by which the uranium needed to run them will be obtained. One possible location: the Arizona 1 mine, located approximately 10 miles from Grand Canyon National Park. At this spot in December 2009, uranium mining resumed after a 20-year hiatus. Denison Mines, a Canadian company, will extract up to eight 20-ton truckloads of uranium per day. The mining has begun, despite lawsuits from environmental groups and a two-year ban on new mining claims, to assess the environmental and economic impacts of the mines. Denison’s claim is not a new one, however, so the company has been given appropriate permits to move forward. Its decision was spurred by rising uranium prices. But are increased profits worth the increased risk of environmental contamination and health problems?
On the Navajo reservation in northern Arizona, where extensive uranium mining took place more than 50 years ago, the effects are still felt. Sheep graze in the midst of radioactive tailing piles, and more than 2.3 million tons of hazardous waste have been buried near the reservation town of Tuba City, Ariz., covered only by a layer of soil and rock. Contaminated water and soil are thought to have increased instances of cancer and birth defects over time. A recent U.S. Geological Survey concluded that, while 95 percent of the water near the mining strip north of the Grand Canyon was drinkable, contamination could be found in areas near the mines. More work must be done to clean up past contamination and eliminate potential future problems before new mining projects move forward.
Descartes in Pennsylvania
In the mid-1800s an Italian mathematician stole from the Institut de France a stack of letters written by René Descartes. Since then scholar sleuths have recovered 45 of the 72 letters. They should have been looking at Haverford College, a Quaker-founded school in the leafy suburbs of Philadelphia, where one letter was found in February. It had been given to the university’s library in 1902 by a donor unaware that it had been stolen. The university’s president, Stephen G. Emerson, immediately called the Institut and promised to return the heirloom that had sat more or less unnoticed on his campus for over a century.
Mr. Emerson did the right thing. Often, after works of art with shaky provenances find their way into museums, the original country calls for their return and a legal battle ensues. The Getty Museum in Los Angeles was recently ordered by an Italian court to return the Getty’s iconic bronze statue of an athlete. The museum says it did not know the work had been removed from Italy illegally. The judge countered that the museum showed “grave negligence.” Around the globe, artworks have been taken and retaken as invading armies plundered palaces and museums; others are housed in museums that have superior resources for conservation. Both issues make deciding ownership a thorny question. Others were simply pilfered from the original sites. The Elgin Marbles, part of the Parthenon, were spirited away in 1801 by Lord Elgin and are still in the British Museum. But Haverford did the right thing. Ownership does not trump ethics. That would be putting Descartes before the horse.